This jade ‘fu’ axe is from China. The axe is similar to Neolithic jade axes from the Yangshao Culture of northeastern China, ca. 5000-7000 BP.
The thickness and rounded cross section of the highly polished example in this model indicates it is a Type II.4 Common Fu axe. However, the thickness is unusual and the precise provenance and date of the object is unknown. Similar perforated and relatively thick fu jade axes were part of the Hongshan Culture in Mongolia. Some authors suggest that this style axe was used as an amulet or offering and suspended through the hole, and mimicked ceremonial fu and yue axes. It may have been of lesser prestige than the thin, flat fu and yue axes interred in high-ranking burials.
Edge-ground stone axes and adzes were made by ca. 32,000-38,000 BP in the Japanese archipelago, and 19,000-21,000 BP in southern China. These are the oldest in the world outside Australia, where they date to over 40,000 years old. The earliest axes were flaked to shape with a bifacially ground edge on one end.
Flaked and pecked axes with rounded or lenticular cross-sections were made across Asia and the pacific throughout prehistory, but axes with rectangular cross-sections were especially popular in some regions. The squared edges on axes and adzes made from igneous or volcanic stones were often made entirely by grinding, but in some regions the edges were squared-off by flaking, probably using an indirect percussion technique and a bone, antler, or stone punch. This indirect percussion-flaking technique was used in East Java and Flores, Indonesia, by 2600 BP, and was also used in New Zealand and perhaps northeastern India. The technique and manufacturing stages are strikingly similar to indirect percussion axe-making at about the same time in Northern Europe, and the technique was almost certainly developed in these areas independently as a stone working ‘good trick’.
Axes and adzes in Asia proliferated in late prehistory into a bewildering array of sizes and shapes that reflect regional trends. In Northeast Thailand, adzes were made with tangs at the proximal end, called ‘shouldered adzes’ by archaeologists. In parts of Indonesia, axe- and adze-makers began grinding the top surface into two facets with a ridge down the centre. Ceremonial gouges were made on Java with a central ridge first made by indirect percussion ‘stitching’ similar to that seen on stone dagger handles made in Denmark. A gouge is similar to an adze, but with a U-shaped working edge rather than a straight one. These Javanese gouges were made from spectacular stones, such as chalcedony and agate, and the flake scars from manufacture were completely removed by grinding.
Jade axes were made in China from about 7000 years ago, along with elaborately carved jade ‘dagger-axes’. Jade axes were perforated near the middle or proximal end as an aid in hafting. Axes with preserved handles have been discovered, showing that they were inserted into a hole in the wood handle and were wedged tight through use. An image engraved onto a Liangzhu Culture pot (ca. 4300-5300 BP), which portrays a perforated axe, shows that the hole was used for a string binding.
Elaborate jade and basalt adzes were also made in late prehistory and into the recent past by Maori people in New Zealand. Some were made with elaborately-shaped proximal ends for hafting, with extremely fine, sharp cutting edges. Similar examples were made in Hawaii. The basalt examples were made by a combination of flaking, pecking, and grinding, while the jade adzes were made mostly by sawing and grinding augmented in the haft area by pecking. These tools were essential for making the elaborate wood carvings on ceremonial houses and canoes, and certain jade examples were used exclusively for ceremony. Maori also made narrow gouges with round cross sections.
In the Peiligang Culture (7000-9000 BP) in China, stone axes were utilitarian objects hafted by driving the stone into a hole in the wood handle—a common approach to axe-hafting world-wide. They were relatively thick and lacked a perforation. In the Neolithic Yangshao Culture, a differentiation occurs in stone axe types: ‘fu’ axes were utilitarian tools, and ‘yue’ axes were for warfare. Jade version of both types of axes emerged across various Neolithic cultures during this period, and they began to take on the symbolic significance that was to dominate in later periods. Also, perforated axes appear for the first time at Yangshao sites. The perforation was used to tie the axe to the handle. By the Longshan Culture (2900-5000) yue jade axes became very thin and rectangular with one or more relatively large holes drilled with a hollow bamboo tube near the axe’s middle or proximal end. Fu axes were also imbued with symbolic content; like yue axes, they were thin with one or more perforations, but tended to be more elongated than yue axes.
Jade axes were a crucial symbol of a ruler’s power for over a thousand years. Jade axes signified rank in imperial ceremonies and became one of the most important objects in high-status burials. Reconstructions of hafted yue axes suggest they were about 70-80 cm long with handles studded with small jade inlays. The top and bottom ends of the handle were affixed with separate ornate jade carvings. Jade axes were imitated in bronze as metal became more widespread.